Once upon a time, two women met at the height of awkward circumstances: Audrey was dating Angela’s ex-husband.
Okay, once upon a time was five years ago, and two of us met out of necessity because Angela and her ex very happily co-parent a daughter together. This meeting was the exact amount of nerves, awkwardness, and judgment you’d expect from two women each sizing up the other.
Audrey would go on to marry Angela’s ex-husband and become a full-blown stepmom to Isabel — a label she’d never thought she would carry. And Angela became the ex-wife — a role she was equally unprepared to play. Let’s get real here, no little girl dreams of becoming either of these things. No one stands at the altar hoping for a divorce. No one pictures marrying someone who has already once found “the one.”
Yet, here they — or rather, we — were: two women on our own journeys called together because of an amazing, funny, brave, and very honest little girl whose love stretches between both homes.
Through the years we’ve tried our best to work together, get to know each other, and ultimately shed whatever preconceived notions we had about stepmom and ex-wife labels that seem to follow us. What we’ve found is that when you let go of all the things you think you’re supposed to feel about the other person, you can actually enjoy having wine with them (and letting them help you through bedtime battles). Obviously, we are in no way experts on co-parenting and are still works in progress, but we thought we’d share a little about our experience. Here goes nothing!
ANGELA: Okay, first of all, we sat down to do this interview and found ourselves talking about minivans for 15 minutes if this tells you how exciting our lives are!
AUDREY: I’m making the leap to official Momville! Okay, I’ll start off. Before we met, what did you think I was going to be like?
ANGELA: Well, I knew there was someone new in my ex-husband’s life and you know how I knew? I was over at his house to pick up my daughter and sat on this weird gold snake earring and its pointy tail punctured my thigh. It was a gold snake with a red bejeweled eye! All I could think of is that is a choice. Then my mind did this irrational jump to “Oh god … she probably swings on a trapeze topless at Burning Man!” That is where my mind goes. “Ol’ Snake Eyes the topless Burning Man goddess, queen of drugs” is dating my ex-husband.
AUDREY: That’s honestly amazing. I’ve definitely never been to Burning Man because I’m terrified of getting a sunburn. And also I’m not at all cool.
ANGELA: That’s the crazy thing — it’s all just things my mind made up about you. None of it was real. I felt so foolish after I met you. So your turn: what did you think about me?
AUDREY: Oh, well, this is easy. I thought you were going to be a little bit like your Office character. I thought you were going to be scary and scowling. Which was confusing because I stalked your Instagram, so it was like, oh great, “mean lady” meets “perfect ass.”
ANGELA: That’s hilarious. People confuse me with my Office character all the time. You know I am such a dork in real life! Oh, and thanks for the perfect ass comment! So how was actually meeting me?
AUDREY: Well, we met at a work party as you know … and I had you built up in my head as this “ex-wife” who would be obsessed with me. Obsessed in the need to know everything about this person in my ex-husband’s life. I mean, isn’t that a thing you hear about ex-wives? That they’re a little jealous and out to get you? So I met you and you were totally laid back and very gracious and could have cared less about checking me out. You just said a lovely hello and then went back to your friends, and I was like, OK, this might be fine.
ANGELA: Yeah I remember that night. My first thought was you were young. I mean, you looked like a teenager and I was 39 (and facing 40 in the face), so that was a little tough to swallow, but you were sweet and maybe a little tipsy. And I had zero judgment about that because I had pounded a glass of wine, too. Because good lord, meeting your ex-husband’s new girlfriend at a work party calls for a big glass of wine! I thought you were nice and incredibly normal. Not at all like the half-naked Burning Man goddess I had imagined you as!
AUDREY: Phew! So was there a moment that made you kind of change how you thought about me? I know you thought I was nice and everything, but how did I become someone you actually liked to talk to?
ANGELA: You know I kind of liked you from the beginning. I mean, I could see that you were normal, but I didn’t know how that would translate into a co-parenting relationship. Then one day Isabel was at my ex’s house and she was missing me and you offered to call me for her. And the two of you called me. That meant so much to me. That was huge. I knew in that moment that you had no ego about this situation — that ultimately what you cared about was my daughter’s happiness. That changed everything for me; it was a shift.
AUDREY: Oh yeah, I totally had a shift like that, too. It might sound weird, but it was because of this little doll that Isabel thinks looks like you.
ANGELA: That little bendy blonde doll? She calls it her “Mommy doll.”
AUDREY: That’s the one. Well, her arm basically ripped off and Isabel freaked out. I couldn’t figure out why it was such a big deal until she told me it was her mom doll. It was like, Ohhhh, it’s your MOM. So we did a whole ceremony and bandaged it up and that was the first time Isabel hugged me. It was such an “a-ha” moment for me because I really realized that I needed to see you only as Isabel’s mom if I wanted this to work — and not my boyfriend’s ex-wife.
ANGELA: I did not know that whole story. I love that. And that is really what this is: co-parenting with an ex and their new family is a lesson in putting your own ego and insecurities aside. It’s about putting your child first. It’s not always easy, but it is so important.
AUDREY: Oh yeah, check the egos at the door.
ANGELA: This has been fun. I forgot about a lot of this stuff. I do really appreciate you and who you have become to me and my daughter.
AUDREY: Oh man, it’s seriously such a gift to be able to be your daughter’s stepmom. I always think about the fact that we could only have our relationship because she knows the two of us are cool. So, yeah, you win Mom of the Year.
We hug, and Angela laughs as we devolve back into minivan discussions and move on to other things we need to cover, like how to make bedtime consistent and what time is best for Isabel’s upcoming birthday party.
Because at the end of the day, this may be an unordinary friendship, but we’re very ordinary parents.